The assault by Hamas on Israeli military and civilian areas is unprecedented in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as is the formal declaration of war by Israel against Hamas. Nobody can forecast exactly how this latest round of violence will end, but some things have been clarified.
1. The Israeli intelligence services are not invincible
The scale of the attack and the logistics needed to carefully carry coordinated attacks by land, air and sea, as to build or smuggle in rockets and drones would have required hundreds of people working over months. Israeli intelligence services – as well as those of the United States and Israel’s European allies – picked up nothing. Even more importantly, once something of the scale of the attack became clear, the military reacted in a haphazard and chaotic fashion, losing time to respond. Writing in The Atlantic, Andrew Exum, a former US military officer who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy in the Pentagon, mentions the Israel Defence Force’s (IDF’s) complacency and lack of discipline, and how the Hezbollah – especially after the 2006 conflict with Israel – holds the IDF “in contempt” because of these qualities.
2. A long-term political disaster heaped onto the IDF
Many commentators in Israel and elsewhere immediately mentioned the 1973 war and the way the then Israeli prime minister Golda Meir had rebuffed outreach by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. This convinced Sadat that the only way to recover the Sinai territories lost by Egypt in the 1967 war was to go to war again. In that sense, both the 1973 war and the attack by Hamas seem not just to be an intelligence failure but also a failure of the intelligence of Israeli prime ministers, in the latest case, that of Benjamin Netanyahu”
No Israeli leader has been as steadfast in sidelining the Palestinian issue as Netanyahu. Even Golda Meir’s execrable remark that “there was no such thing as Palestinians” existed alongside a realisation that a Palestinian state had to come into existence. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has never acknowledged the need for such a thing. He called Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, a “Nazi” and “traitor”, and attended a rally with a coffin and noose for Rabin. The assassination of Rabin by Yigal Amir began the retreat from the principles of “land for peace”. Instead, every Israeli government since Rabin’s assassination – many of them led by Netanyahu – has expanded the stealing of Palestinian land through the establishment of illegal “settlements” in occupied territory, and the pursuit of a policy that many international and Israelis regard as apartheid.
All of this has been done under the idea that an ‘invincible’ IDF, and a superior intelligence agency like the Mossad and Shin Bet, could isolate and suppress the Palestinians. To be fair, numerous IDF personnel and former Shin Bet chiefs have explicitly stated that this form of use of the military is destroying it from within and that a political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessity.
3. War crimes are war crimes
The murder and kidnap of civilians is never justified. Never. The murder of around 200 people attending a rave party is so morally reprehensible as to reduce the meaning of the word to nothingness. Hamas, and the Palestinians, like any other group living under military occupation, have a right to resist. Hamas even has the right to take prisoners of war – as long as they are military personnel and treated humanely. There is no right, ever, to commit war crimes. This applies to Israel as well, which routinely assaults, kidnaps, tortures, and murders Palestinian civilians. Every single Palestinian held in Israeli jails, whether charged by military courts or under “administrative detention”, is illegally held. International law forbids the removal of people from an area under military occupation.
Jew, Arab, Muslim, Christian, atheist, whatever, none of that matters. Human rights apply to all humans or they are worth nothing. It is both remarkable and deeply sad that courageous Israelis like Haggai Matar cling to these concepts as they try to hide from rocket fire. And past comprehension that commentators in the US and parts of Europe would exclude the long history of war crimes by Israelis – especially as the Israeli leadership explicitly carries out further war crimes like depriving a largely civilian population of water, and bombing schools and hospitals.
4. ‘Western’ hypocrisy has few buyers
Outside of the US, Europe, and the rest of the countries largely governed by the descendants of European males, nobody – with the possible exception of the obsequious Narendra Modi – is willing to buy the idea that Palestinians are exclusively to blame. Even a number of organisations and groups in Europe, the US, and its allies are dissenting. The clearest indicator of this was the EU announcing that it was not stopping humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
The whole issue was started by Olivér Várhelyi, a commissioner in the European Union, who tweeted that the EU would cut off all aid. Várhelyi is well known as the ‘attack dog’ of Viktor Orban – the anti-democratic, sexist, racist, and anti-semitic prime minister of Hungary. Of course, Orban was elected using the services of two political strategists from the US Republican Party, who had helped Netanyahu’s prime ministerial campaign in 1995. Their trump card: a campaign against George Soros – who had no presence in Hungary – full of anti-Semitic tropes.
The other act of breathtaking hypocrisy was the president of Ukraine, comparing the attack by Hamas to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Throughout the Ukraine war, the comparisons between Russia’s willingness to eliminate the Ukrainian state or leave it as a pawn in Russia’s hands and the comparison between Russia’s policy and Israeli policies towards the Palestinians have been stark. If Ukrainians have a right to a state and a life of dignity not ruled by a neighbouring state, then so do the Palestinians.
5. India under Modi is no ‘voice of the Global South’
For all of its posturing at the recently concluded G20 summit that it was the “Voice of the Global South”, India is out of step with other post-colonial countries. India, or at least the tweet by Narendra Modi, conveyed only concern for Israelis. South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, did the opposite, stating, “It can no longer be disputed that Apartheid South Africa’s history is occupied Palestine’s reality. As a result, the decision by Palestinians to respond to the brutality of the settler Israeli apartheid regime is unsurprising.”
China asked for an immediate end to hostilities and pushed for a two-state solution. Brazil – which takes over the G20 Presidency from India – condemned the attacks on civilians by Hamas, but pushed for a two-state solution. The chairman of the Commission of the African Union (which joined the G20 as a full member under India’s presidency) stated, “Denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, particularly that of an independent and sovereign State, is the main cause of the permanent Israeli-Palestinian tension.” Japan (which may or may not count as part of the Global South), while condemning the attack on civilians and hostage-taking, also expressed concern for the violence against civilians in Gaza.
Not one country or institution in the Global South with any significant power either followed Modi’s lead or agreed with his response. Almost all of them are in line with the statement of the Indian National Congress.
6. Humiliation of Arab states
Most commentators have said that the attack by Hamas was intended to derail the normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia. It has certainly put paid to Netanyahu’s crude posturing at the UN General Assembly on September 22 that “the Palestinians… should not have a veto over the [peace] process”, with Arab states, but the Saudi-Israel normalisation has only become a possible reality over the last two months. The planning for the attack by Hamas would likely have taken much longer.
Nonetheless, the so-called peace process with Arab states is between the Israeli government and despotic leaders. Such deals remain deeply unpopular, as the many street rallies after the attack with Hamas demonstrated. The only reason that Arab despots are able to take them forward is because of the reputation of Israel’s ‘invincibility’, and the total impunity it enjoys because of nuclear weapons and the unrestricted backing of the US and its allies.
The attack by Hamas, as heinous as it is, has destroyed that reputation. It has also shown up countries like Egypt, Syria, Saudi and others that spend greatly on weapons but have allowed themselves to be bullied into submission. It will be very hard for Arab states to blithely continue this process of “normalisation”, but the Arab leaders are not going to forgive the Palestinians for showing that they are willing to fight despite the lack of support of most Arab states.
Omair Ahmad is an author and journalist.